Nemanja Vidic was again missing as Manchester United resumed their quest to reach a third consecutive Champions League final.
Alex Ferguson’s men flew out Italy this morning for tomorrow’s encounter with an AC Milan side featuring former player David Beckham.
Vidic, who has yet to play in 2010 after developing a nerve problem in his leg, was ruled out, leaving Ferguson to decide whether Jonny Evans or Wes Brown should partner new England skipper Rio Ferdinand in central defence.
Ryan Giggs is also missing after breaking an arm in last week’s draw at Aston Villa, but the remainder of United’s first-team squad, with the exception of out-of-favour midfielder Anderson, made the two-hour trip for a meeting with the seven-time winners who have beaten United on all four occasions they have met in a two-legged European tie.
Despite missing the tie Giggs knows enough about Beckham to be certain that at his core, the former England skipper remains passionate about the game that has provided his passport to fame and fortune, so focused he expects him still to be operating at the highest level in another four years.
“We are different in the sense he has been in the limelight, front page and back, while I prefer to keep myself to myself,” said Giggs.
“But I still speak to him. He has not changed as a person.
“He has always loved football. He has always been dedicated and that is still the same now.
“Like myself, Becks looks after himself.
“He is naturally fit and is a natural athlete, so I am not surprised he is still going at all.
“In fact I reckon he will keep going for another three or four years.”
All those seasons of sharing a dressing room and celebrating honours together came to an abrupt end in 2003 when Ferguson let Beckham leave for Real Madrid, the relationship between the pair fractured as much by the influence of wife Victoria as anything the 34-year-old did wrong on the pitch.
That rift was only healed 12 months ago when Beckham shook hands with his old mentor before an encounter with Inter Milan in the same stadium at exactly the same stage of the competition.
Now they are finally on opposite sides, with Giggs admitting he is surprised the reunion took so long.
“We had a couple of chances to meet when he was at Real Madrid but it is great that it will finally happen and great for Becks to come back,” he said.
“It will be fantastic for the fans to see him again because he was a great player for United and still is a great player for England and Milan and in America as well.”
But Giggs, like the rest of his team-mates, is acutely aware United cannot get sucked into the nostalgia.
Whilst the former Wales skipper will now be powerless to prevent Beckham causing United damage, he knows that is exactly what will happen if the Old Trafford outfit offer him the chance.
“I hope he doesn’t do anything nasty to us,” said Giggs.
“He is a quality player and has always risen to the occasion.
“With the right foot he has he can just ping balls 50 yards or make a five or 10-yard pass. He has amazing accuracy.
“And we must try not to give free-kicks away from 25 or 30 yards out because he is capable of putting them into the top corner.
“Hopefully he will enjoy it – but not that much.”’